Home Care: How to Tell if a Wound is Infected

Is a Wound Infected?
Is a Wound Infected?

A wound is any type of injury affecting the skin. It can be a cut, bruise, puncture, or laceration.  Because some sort of trauma causes most wounds, this frequently introduces contamination, which can then cause the wound to become infected. Below are some common questions that pet owners ask about wounds in dogs, especially how to tell if they are infected. The focus of this article is on how to care for wounds at home when no veterinary care is available.

If you were to call and ask me about a problem I’d most likely tell you to see your vet. However, I realize there are some situations that make seeing a veterinarian very difficult. Maybe an emergency happens when no clinics are open and emergency care isn’t available. Maybe you just don’t have the money and can’t afford a vet visit. I understand that things happen.

Let me be clear: I don’t want the advice below to replace your vet. It is meant only to help you in case you can’t see your vet. Many pet owners make harmful choices because they don’t get any advice. With this series of blogs, I want to help you prevent harming your dog. I’ll try to guide you through dealing with specific problems as though you were a friend of mine and I was talking you through a problem on the phone.

Here are some of the most common questions pet owners ask vets about infected wounds.

What Causes a Wound? 

The term “wound” covers a variety of injuries that are caused by puncture or laceration with a foreign object (such as a metal on a fence, nails, glass, stick, etc.), the teeth or claws of another animal, or trauma such as being hit by a car.

Most wounds occur in an environment filled with bacteria such as another dog’s mouth or dirt on the ground. Thus, wounds are generally considered contaminated with a high possibility of infection.

One common question that pet owners ask is “How can I tell if the wound is infected?”

Signs of Wound Infection in Dogs

Common symptoms of an infected wound are evidence of swelling, pain, redness, and discharge (especially bloody or yellow discharge).  Many pets will also have a fever and can have decreased appetite and lethargy. Some pets will also lick at an infected wound.

What You Can Do at Home

If there is no veterinary care available, the following are considerations to help your pet.

  • If possible, take your dog’s temperature. The normal temperature in a dog is approximately 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  If your dog’s temperature is over 103 degrees Fahrenheit, contact your veterinarian. Not sure what to do with the thermometer? Read our article to learn how to take your dog’s temperature.
  • Some types of wounds require particular care. Check out our recommendations for home care for dogs with lacerations. 
 This article has specific advice on how to treat the wounds.
  • Important! If your dog acts like they are in pain, won’t eat, seems lethargic, or you notice swelling, a foul-smelling discharge, or redness, please SEE YOUR VETERINARIAN. Most injuries that cause wounds are “dirty” (occur around lots of bacteria) and pets with these injuries frequently require antibiotics. Your pet needs your help and the professional care your veterinarian can provide. If your pet is having the clinical signs mentioned above, expect your veterinarian to perform some diagnostic tests and make treatment recommendations. Recommendations will be dependent upon the severity and nature of the clinical signs. If a wound is infected, appropriate veterinary care is important as soon as possible.  The longer it is delayed, the more ill your pet may become and they may require more extensive treatments (surgery, IV antibiotics, etc.).

When Is a Wound an Emergency? 

A wound is always an emergency and should always be examined by a veterinarian. Even seemingly small cuts can run deep and penetrate important structures that require sutures or additional treatment.

Great Links for More Information 

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